Poem of the Week | October 20, 2014

This week we’re delighted to offer you a poem by Lawrence Raab from our brand-new fall issue, 37.3. Rabb is the author of seven collections of poems, most recently The History of Forgetting (Penguin, 2009) and A Cup of Water Turns into a Rose, a long poem published in a limited edition by Adastra Press (2012). His next collection, Or So It Seemed To Me Then, will appear from Tupelo Press in 2015. He teaches literature and writing at Williams College.

Author’s note:

“The Scenario” was written using an assignment I devised for myself: Collect a number of spoken lines from newspapers, paying no attention to context or content, and responding only to interesting tones of voice. Use one to get a poem started, and any others to drive the poem in another direction if it stalls. The three lines discovered and used for “The Scenario” are: “Harry, for that kind of money bad things happen to people”; “There’s a scenario out there. It could be there. Not right now, but it could be there”; “We don’t like to say much because we don’t want to lose our lives.” The first quotation got the poem started, connecting money and violence, and invoking a noirish sort of situation. But mainly it gave me a voice. The second line gave me the idea of the meta-fictional “scenario” that structures the poem. The third line drove the poem from one moment to another while at the same time (I hope) deepening the poem’s concerns. It allowed for the word “awestruck,” used in a non-trivial way. I have no idea––as I shouldn’t––what the newspaper stories were behind any of these lines, though now I can’t help but wonder, especially about the first two. Who was Harry? What sort of “scenario” did the speaker have in mind? I hope this curiosity––unrecoverable for me––manifests itself interestingly in the poem.


The Scenario


“Harry,” someone tells me, “for that kind of money
bad things happen to people.” Which was how
I made the connection between money and nothing,


and saw the street after midnight where I’d be
outnumbered and alone under the bridge.
But there’s always another scenario,


and in it the plot will be treating me
quite differently. I might be standing with you
by a lake at twilight. I might hear


some kind of bird singing, and feel lucky.
“We don’t like to say much,” others told me,
“because we don’t want to lose our lives.”


That made sense, I respected that, and I believe
the scenario wanted me to feel the same,
meaning afraid, meaning awestruck


at all the bad things that can happen
to people, then uncertain if the opposite
could have been arranged instead—


like walking out into the sun without even
a penny in my pocket, wondering
where you might be. I’m back in the city


right now, quite well-dressed in fact, and waiting
for a train. “Harry,” the man behind me says,
“don’t stand too close to the edge. At least not yet.”